Neuropsychologists and Brain Health

Fadi Tayim, PhD, Division Chief of Neuropsychology at the Clinical Neuroscience Institute, answers frequently asked questions about the many ways neuropsychologists can assess brain function and health.

What are the symptoms of a concussion in an older adult?

Dr. Fadi Tayim discusses the symptoms older adults feel if they experience a concussion. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

What are the symptoms of a concussion in an older adult?

We all fall victim to the normal aging process. The older we get we notice some decline, some slip-ups in our memory, our short term memory, our attention sometimes slips, and other times it's harder for us to accomplish the same tasks with the same energy that we used to. Our processing speed gets slower and some of the things that we do tend to get a little bit harder.

All of this is compounded when you have a head injury at an older age. With the normal aging process, when you have a concussion that is really a disruption in the electrical signals in the brain, it's harder for someone who is older to bounce back than if you were younger, 17 or 18 years old, with a head injury. The reason being is that the normal aging process has occurred and we're already at a deficit the older that we get.

Whereas a healthy 17- or 18-year-old may see a return to baseline in seven to 10 days, an older adult may expect something in one to three months. That's just a metric. It depends on the person, every person is different. I've seen patients who are 55 years old who had a head injury and they bounce right back within a week. This really is due to interpersonal differences, but in general, the older you are, the harder it is to regain that full functionality in that same time period. This is because of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. While the brain can heal itself and the neural connections can continue to form and reconnect after an injury, it just goes a lot slower the older we are.

   

We all fall victim to the normal aging process. As we age, we notice some decline, some slip-ups in our short-term memory. Our attention sometimes slips and at other times it's harder for us to accomplish the same tasks with the same energy that we used to have. Our processing speed gets slower and some of the things that we do tend to become a little bit harder to finish.

All of this is confounded when you have a head injury at an older age. A concussion is really a disruption in the electrical signals within the brain. It's harder for someone who is older to bounce back from a head injury than for someone who is 17 or 18 years old. The reason is that the normal aging process is at play and you’re already at a deficit the older you get.

A healthy 17- or 18-year-old may see a return to baseline within seven to 10 days after a concussion. An older adult may expect to return to normal in one to three months. But that's just a metric. It depends on the person, and every person is different. I've seen patients who are 55 years old with a head injury and they bounce right back within a week.

The recovery time really is due to interpersonal differences, but in general, the older you are, the harder it is to regain that full functionality in that same time period. This is because of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. While the brain can heal itself and the neural connections can continue to form and reconnect after an injury, it just goes a lot slower the older we are.

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Source: Fadi Tayim, PhD, Clinical Neuroscience Institute; American Psychological Association; American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology